64-year-old Denzel Washington receives 2019 AFI Lifetime Achievement award
Washington is the third black recipient of the award

All of Hollywood gathered to honor the revered actor Denzel Washington, whose career spanning five decades (and counting) and two Oscar wins opened the door for a new generation of black actors.

Washington was selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the recipient of their Lifetime Achievement award this year – better known as “the highest honor for a career in film” – and the award was presented to him by director and frequent collaborator Spike Lee.

Spike Lee, a frequent collaborator, presents the AFI Lifetime Achievement award to Washington
‘Shoulders of a giant’

A small elite of black leading men also paid tribute to Washington’s career in a gala event at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, including fellow Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx, and Mahershala Ali, as well as Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan.

“You paved the way. You showed us the path. But what’s truly monumental is that your influence, your reach, transcends race without ever denying it,” said Ali, “We are here because we stand on the shoulders of a giant.”

“There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington,” said Boseman, who plays the titular character in the Marvel Studio’s first film to focus on a black superhero.

Facing diversity

In recent years Hollywood has been heavily criticized for its diversity issues in the film industry, notable during the 2016 Academy Awards where the #OscarsSoWhite campaign exploded; Washington is one of only four black men to win a Best Actor Oscar.

Considered one of cinema’s most versatile actors, Washington’s two Oscar wins came from 1989’s American Civil war epic Glory, and in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day (2001). Other iconic films include Man on FireAmerican Gangster, Remember the Titans, and the titular character in Malcolm X by Lee.

Other recent recipients of the annual AFI Lifetime Achievement award include George Clooney, Diane Keaton, and John Williams. Washington joins Freeman and Sidney Poitier, another trailblazing black actor, as the third black recipient.

Story and photos from AFP.

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